Body image: true lies we tell our daughters

By | November 17, 2013

Today’s rant is sponsored by the word “fat”. Well, really the completely nonsensical way we gasp in horror if the word is mentioned but quietly judge moms of overweight kids (“How did she let that happen?”). We’re told that obesity is a national security risk and a childhood epidemic. On the other hand, heaven forbid we even think the word “fat” in our daughters’ presence….we might give them a negative body image. So does that mean it’s better for them to be fat than to worry about being fat? Nope. We’re supposed to keep our daughters from getting fat while teaching them that their bodies are perfect just the way they are. Talk about mixed messages.

This has been on my mind lately, because I spent the last week writing articles on fashion tips for large women, tall women, petite women, etc. So I’ve got body image on the brain. I try to be good…really. I don’t tell my daughter that I won’t go to the mailbox (or even carpool line) without makeup because I strongly believe you should always look your best (I’m not going to let the public see something I don’t even want to see in the mirror!). I tell her I do it because it makes me feel good. When she wants to know why I won’t wear a bikini, I don’t tell her that I’m too old or that, no matter how much weight I lose, this belly will never again see the light of day (after 3 c-sections and one ovary removal, it ain’t pretty); I just tell her that I’m more comfortable in a tankini.

What bothers me is when these true lies are about her. Because she would eat all day if I’d let her. She’s not fat, but her baby belly is starting to reappear…and she’s not a baby anymore. And trying to handle that without mentioning the word “fat” puts me in a bit of a tight spot. Sure, I can provide healthy meals and snacks, but how do I explain that, even with healthy foods, you can’t eat as much as you want? She’s not stupid. She always wanted to know why it’s not healthy. I knew what was going through her little head…she was weighing the risks vs. the benefits so she could decide if it was worth it. I could tell by the look on her face that she knew I was feeding her a bunch of BS. Finally, with the directness only a child can muster, she asked, “Will it make me die?” Now what? “Maybe…in 40 years” wasn’t going to make her put that cookie down. I could bring it all to a screeching halt if I just said, “It’ll make you fat.” That she would understand. Or I could keep dancing around the one word that would make the lightbulb go on.

Of course I don’t want her to hate her body. But neither do I want her to struggle with being overweight during her childhood and teens. I did it, and it’s not fun. I decided my mom had it right. She never hesitated to point out when I was packing on the pounds. No, it didn’t feel good, but it was the truth. And the truth sure makes things simpler. Otherwise, it’s like painting a house with a toothbrush. It’ll take you forever, you’re using the wrong tool, and you still won’t get the result you want.

So I stopped telling my daughter true lies and used the f-word (no…the other f-word). I’m not making a big deal about it or making it sound like being fat is the worst thing in the world. But when she wants to know why she can’t have a fourth helping at dinner, I tell her the truth, “It’ll make you fat.” And her answer is, “OK, what can I have that won’t make me fat?” It doesn’t get much simpler than that. Even if it does make the mommy police mad.

2 thoughts on “Body image: true lies we tell our daughters

  1. KHend

    So here’s my opinion with a back story. My Mom is 5’2″, my Dad was 6’6″, she was very hard on me about being “bigger than her,” she NEVER said I was fat but I thought I was … I wasn’t, I was just built differently than she was. It’s taken me MANY YEARS to accept my body the way it is. Perfect? Not hardly, but it’s the only one I get and I do my darnest to make healthy decisions. Having a 10 year old daughter, I don’t steer clear of saying the f-word but do make sure she understands everyone is built differently. She happens to be pretty small but that could change the minute puberty hits!

  2. Post author

    I agree, and if I ever heard her judging anybody on body type, I would come down on her HARD. That isn’t acceptable in this house. My point was more about the absurdity of how we’re lectured on childhood obesity but we’re not supposed to tell our kids that eating too much will make them fat. On a more personal level, I’ve battled my weight my whole life, and I don’t want Ava to have to experience what I did. Even when I’m at a good weight, it takes a deliberate effort to keep it there. It just seems so much easier to prevent it on the front end.


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